Training the Fearful Dog

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by jtclough on September 19, 2010

Have you ever felt afraid to the point anxiety becomes a reality?  Scared of something with or without an explanation as to why?  Do you get an odd uncontrollable feeling when standing on the edge of a place like the Grand Canyon?  Does your mouth go dry when you are suddenly put on the spot to get on stage and speak in front of all your co-workers?  What about the feeling when someone tells you no about something you really want?

These are all fears people carry around with them and the automatic reactions that occur in the heat of the moment.  Our dogs are fearful of different things than we are, but the feeling of fear or anxiety is the same and they are limited as to how they communicate fear.  It is why many times it gets labeled as “fear aggression”.

Growling, barking, lunging, nipping or biting are all ways to cope with fear in dogs and to people any of these reactions appear to be aggression.  Or at the very least not a nice thing to be doing.  When people react to anxiety and fear unfortunately the problem doesn’t get addressed as soon as it should, sometimes going on a lifetime simply because we have many more communication skills to disguise the problem.

Dogs on the other hand have only a few coping mechanisms and addressing these issues in many cases becomes a must in our busy lives with friends, family, children and many daily activities where our dogs are expected to be good.

Addressing fear or anxiety without English as a common language is challenging for most people.  The answer lies in showing a fearful dog what to do and leaving the focus of the scary behind.  Instead of bringing attention in the form of labeling the behavior with words like, “no, no, don’t do that”, or even the consoling “it’s okay, you are fine, good boy”, the thing to do is go straight to showing your dog what to do.

The problem lies in that many times the anxiety has built to a place where an anxious dog won’t even hear what you are trying to communicate.  The answer…   Movement.


Even for people the first answer to dealing with stress, anxiety or depression is to add exercise to your daily routine.  In recent years lack of movement for people has contributed to not only weight gain but to the way we handle our stress.

The same is true for our dogs.  Movement is the key ingredient to a happy healthy dog and the lack of it contributes to far greater behavior challenges than most dog owners are aware.

Exercise for a fearful or anxious dog is on the very top of the list when it comes to changing this behavior to confidence and the ability to deal with daily routines in a much more relaxed manner.  Finding ways to get an anxious dog exercise can be challenging when the fear stems from other people, dogs or unexpected external noises.

Treadmill Dog Training

The treadmill for a fearful or anxious dog is a solution well worth looking into for a variety of reasons.  First creating a safe environment for a dog suffering from fear starts everyone off on the right paw.  Secondly it is a way to incorporate exercise as a stress reliever while creating a mind that can open to learning by taking the over anxious edge off through movement .  Once a fearful dog gets the chance to burn off the nervous energy that stores itself only to come out as bad behavior the road to leaving the fear behind can begin.

Other benefits to training a fearful dog on a treadmill are really about gaining your own confidence as well.  Many people suffer from feeling the judgement of others while trying to get a dog with issues “over it” out on a public trail or park.  Dogs who are fearful, shy or overly anxious can look to others as though they have been “abused” or you aren’t being nice to the dog.  In most cases this is far from the truth and stops the process of getting a dog out and moving as much as possible.

Exercise and movement take the edge off of anxiety for both people and dogs.  Treadmill training for dogs not only gives a dog who needs to move through fear the chance to get enough exercise but with my own professional training experience, it has in fact gotten most dogs to a place where confidence and balance returns and a dog who wasn’t socially able to function well becomes happy and integrated into regular life activities.

For more information on training your dog on a treadmill whether for a behavior change or for an option in getting enough exercise see

Wag more with fitness and health for you and the dog!

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